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On Self-Publishing: Print-on-Demand with Amazon’s CreateSpace

As promised, I’m going to tell you how we actually go about publishing a book to Amazon. I’ll save some of the “how to” aspect of it for next week, when I discuss Consortium Books processes. First, I want to describe some of my experiences with the distributors.

It might help to briefly explain the roles of the various entities involved. This is the chain of actors needed to produce a book:

  • Content Creator (Aaron Pogue)
  • Publisher (Consortium Books)
  • Distributor (Amazon’s CreateSpace, Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, Lulu, or Barnes & Noble’s PubIt)
  • Retailer (Amazon, Barnes&

Now, there are several actors involved within the “publisher” line (and, I’m sure, within “distributor” and “retailer” as well), and the publisher steps are the ones I’ll be addressing later. The more important thing here is to see the relationships between distributor and retailer — specifically the fact that I’m using Amazon-owned distributors to package books to sell through Amazon as the retailer.

Money Matters

There are financial benefits to doing things that way. I looked into printing paperbacks through Lulu, but after paying their (distributor) cut, and then paying Amazon’s (retailer) cut, I’d’ve had to price the book around $15-$20 just to break even.

But when I go through CreateSpace, they can offer me cheaper rates because they know they’ll be taking cuts out of both sides. That way, I’m able to price my paperback at $9.99 and make the same $2 profit I get off my e-Books at $2.99.

And I probably should have said this up front, because it’s the first question everyone wants to know:

How much does it cost to publish my paperbacks like this?

The answer: nothing.

Or…well, about $5. Something along those lines. You can set up your project for free, but the next-to-last step is to order a proof copy. So you’re paying for that proof (just the cost of materials) and shipping and handling. If you approve the proof, though, the book immediately goes up for sale on Amazon, and CreateSpace makes their money not off an initial investment, but off their cut of each copy that actually gets order.

It’s fantastically easy to do. And then, once a month, CreateSpace sends you a check for all the sales you made last month. Easy as that.

Creative Differences

As always, though, there are…kinks. That always happens with new technology, and it’s always worse when the company you’re working with has a clear advantage over all its competition. CreateSpace has been no exception.

Cover Art

When you set up your project at CreateSpace, you choose your page size, tell them how many pages the book is, and they’ll provide a template file you can use in Photoshop to make the cover image you upload to them. (Think one long jpeg that they’ll wrap all the way around the book, from front to back.)

The tricky part is the margin. See…their process isn’t perfect. They print out a cover, print out the pages, trim them all down to the right side, and glue them all together (and they do that remarkably fast).

It leaves some amount of variance in where exactly the cut falls. Not a lot — small fractions of an inch — but it can be enough to matter in a cover image. So you have to provide an image with enough “extra” to fill up the margins, but that wouldn’t be missed if it got trimmed off. It’s a tricky process.

The trickiest bit is the spine, which is the narrowest block but could end up shifting just as far to left or right (onto the back cover or the front) as the entire margin’s width on the right or left end of the page.

Anyway, when you upload your book to CreateSpace and ask for a proof, they’ll do an internal review first to make sure they don’t spot any obvious errors. (Nice of them, to save you that $5 in shipping and handling on an easy fix.)

The problem is, it takes them 24-48 hours to make that review. And when they reject your cover because “the text on the spine is too large, please leave at least 1/16th of an inch of margin,” well…then you’ve got to make changes in your image and wait another 24-48 hours to hear back from them again before you can order your proof.

With Gods Tomorrow, I went through that loop four times. The first time, I did my math wrong, and didn’t leave 1/16th inch. The second time, I did — exactly, to the pixel — and they said the same thing.

The third time, I trimmed another 4 pixels off on both sides, just to make sure I was within the space they wanted…and still I got exactly the same response. So I gave up on math, selected everything in the spine, made it much smaller, and then sent it off. I finally got approved. Altogether, it added an extra week to my publication time, almost all of it waiting for them to review the changes I’d uploaded.

Title Troubles

I had that same problem with Ghost Targets: Expectation, but after the first rejection I had Amy (my graphic designer) just go ahead and do the hack job. We didn’t have any further issues with it.

We did have trouble with the title, though. The front cover of the book looks like this:

(Click to view it full-size.)

I got a response back from their review saying:

The title for this book was listed as Ghost Targets: Expectation but the cover indicates the title is FROM THE AUTHOR OF GODS TOMORROW  EXPECTATION. Please make sure the title listed in the book information matches with the title appearing on your book’s front cover and interior title page.

Haha! Oops! That was obviously a mistake on the part of their overly-technical review process. So I wrote to customer service to explain the confusion…and waited 24-48 hours to hear back from them. And the response?

The title for this book was listed as Ghost Targets: Expectation but the cover indicates the title is FROM THE AUTHOR OF GODS TOMORROW  EXPECTATION. Please make sure the title listed in the book information matches with the title appearing on your book’s front cover and interior title page.

Not even an explanation. It was word-for-word. Once again, it took me a week of wrangling with them just to get the book approved so they would send me a proof, and in the end they refused to list the book under the title I’d requested. Instead, they called it “Expectation: Ghost Targets” and I’ve been working directly with Amazon Customer Service to try to get the title changed on the sales page.

Making Do

I kind of hate CreateSpace. I really do. But, then, they’re a virtually free service that gives me unbeatable access to the world’s largest market for booksellers. I’m slowly learning the tricks to getting things past their reviewers, and I’m learning to add an extra week into my publication process. It’s a hassle, but it’s hard to argue with the end results.

If you’re interested, I strongly encourage you to try it out. It’s not too hard, it’s not too expensive…all it requires is a book, a cover image, and a little bit of patience. Give it time, and you’ll be amazed at the results.

2 Responses to “On Self-Publishing: Print-on-Demand with Amazon’s CreateSpace”

  1. Aaron, I am so thankful that you’ve gone through this process twice before I have to go through it once. I would be at such a loss if I had to deal with this stuff on my own without any “insider” help! Thank you in advance. 🙂

  2. Dave Doolin says:

    That’s pretty crappy that they simply ignored your title. As you say, they are big enough that they don’t care what you think.

    Anyway, whatever anyone calls it, I’m eagerly waiting the next installment.